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Sunday, 10 July 2011


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Here are Malcolm Gladwell's ideas on the subject.


I have thoroughly enjoyed reading his archive of The New Yorker articles.

I have always thought that "information wants to be free" means that censorship does not work on the Internet, rather than free in the monetary sense.

Free speech rather than free beer, so to say.

The aphorism about info wanting to be free was originally taken from a talk given by Steward Brand in the mid 80s, and expanded on in the book THE MEDIA LAB which came out in 1987. People don't know that he also gave examples of why "information wants to be expensive" too.

The whole quote (according to Wikipedia) is, "Information wants to be free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine - too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, 'intellectual property', the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better."

The context in which I encounter "information wants to be free" and in which the partial-quote seems apt to me is in regards to the difficulty in stemming the spread of IP (piracy of music, movies and video games; the re-posting of quotes and images from tublr to tumblr; etc).

This strikes me as a progression from the idea in the original (and new to me) quote that it's a sub-quote of. The original stipulates that it's increasingly inexpensive to distribute information, and I see information often spreading not only for free but even against the wishes of the originator(s) of the information once it has been encoded into digital bits. This is where the anthropomorphizing comes in in my opinion. We people like to attribute intelligent purposefulness to any patterns of change (hence the difficulty in explaining the theory of evolution without triggering the idea of intent, as if genes could perceive changes in environment and then decide on a compatible genetic change in the animal to exploit the new environmental factor).

Despite the dangers of deep misunderstanding one faces when anthropomorphizing patterns of change, I do see a benefit in the form of a sort of linguistic and intellectual shorthand that allows one to grasp the overall behavior of whatever non-sentient pattern of change one is observing.

I dunno. I think information does want to be free, both beer- and speech-wise.

Information is like any other commodity or raw product: it's what you do with it that makes it valuable. Just having information is seldom that worthwhile - one needs to invest time and energy in understanding it, then critically analyzing it to see if it is accurate/correct/useful, then synthesizing it with information already out there and/or that one may already have, and then applying it in some manner that makes it beneficial. It seems that people are all to willing these days to simply take so-called information (already 'digested' and sifted to result in a predictable reaction) and just start applying it without going through any of the work first.

The bulk of the ideas of Chris Andersen's (as relayed by Mr Gladwell) quite frankly amount to "quit screaming, just lay back and think of England". The balance amounts to "losing money on each item but making it up in volume".

of course this apothegm uses a poetic sense of "want", as in "water wants to flow downhill"

I refuse to look up the meanings of 'anthropomorphize',
'apothegm', and 'aphorism'.

Dear folks,

What really distresses me in all these threads and all the articles I've read is that nobody seems to think that rate of change is at all important. It's of paramount importance!

Extreme hypothetical examples: suppose that 100 years from now all creative content, all IP, is freely available without restriction to anybody who wants to use it in any fashion they want to use it. Is it possible for creators to survive, economically in such a situation?

The short answer is, of course! Lots of economic schemes have been proposed that allow for a business to exist creating new content at the same time that people don't actually pay anything, directly, for that content. Starting with Richard Stallman's artist tax idea from 30 years ago.

Understand I'm not talking about political feasibility pros or cons or anything like that. I'm just saying that economically it's not impossible at all and if it happens over a century time span, no one will even be seriously dislocated by it or care. There are precious few people alive today who are experiencing dislocation from the change in how work works from 1911.

Now we go to the other extreme: I waive my evil magic wand and effective midnight tonight, all IP becomes freely available to anyone who wants it, no restrictions and no limitations on what they do with it.

Show of hands, how many readers actually think this would not cause immense grief and economic hardship to most people who create free living?

I don't think we need to take a formal vote, do we?

And that's the thing the gripes me. None of the argumentation considers that rate of change matters.

I, personally, don't care whether information will ultimately be entirely free. I don't care if defending my IP rights will prove to be a long-term defeat. If change happens sufficiently slowly, I can deal. If it doesn't, I can't. That is my bottom line.

So long as the free-folk on the Information Superhighway clamor for all the limits and restrictions to disappear tomorrow, it will be in my interest to scatter as many speed bumps down the highway as I can. Doesn't matter if it's ultimately a winning or losing strategy, I don't care about ultimate. I may work with bits and bytes, but I don't live in a binary world and everything isn't about “yes” or “no.”

I just need to ensure that it happens slowly enough that I don't end up as roadkill. And so I'll keep throwing up traffic barriers -- I'll keep arguing against the change, I will keep looking for infringements, and I will nail the asses of anybody I can catch as a discouragement from them pursuing that course.

I don't care who ultimately wins or loses. I care desperately about tomorrow, I care an awfully lot about next year, and I care very little about next century.

It's all about rates, people, it's all about rates.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

There is no such thing as natural property. To paraphrase Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, *all* property is socially constructed.

In fairness, that's more of a riff on Proudhon than a paraphrase…

"I refuse to look up the meanings of 'anthropomorphize', 'apothegm', and 'aphorism'."

...So you'd rather go on needing to?

I'm just sayin'.


I always feel compelled to add to discussions like this that the Internet is not "free"- it costs tens of billions to maybe a hundred billion $ per year to operate and upgrade.
Not to mention that it is relatively easy to censor and tap...

I don't mind contributing to free information, but I do mind when someone else tries to make money from it.

I suppose the difficulty with IP for art is that art needs to be 'consumed'. A picture needs to be looked at, music needs to be listened to. Without this consumption, the art has little value - a picture that is never seen or music that is never heard is useless. So how is that consumption charged? Humming a song as you walk along the street is obviously a form of consumption of music, but it can't be charged for. I'm sure there will be 3 little holes in the rock in Yosemite where everyone sets up to try and recreate Ansel Adams shots, but Ansel (or his estate) can't earn from that.

This all leads to the need to protect the forms of consumption that can be a source of income - however the nature of consumption is changing. Unfortunately I can't predict how these changes will pan out and how people can earn a reasonably income for the art they create. If I could I'm sure I'd be rich (if anyone was really interested in my art of course).

"Apothegm", n. A figure of speech corrected for thematic aberration by the inclusion of dispersive elements.

Dear dauga,

So, you're feeling somewhat... apoplectic?

He asked alliterively.

pax / Ctein

Note to self:

"people who create free living?" Gracie?!

OK, that should have read "people who create for a living?"

My proofreader is inept. I shall fire them.

pax / unemployed Ctein

Yes, the amount of pain felt during the transition to new economies of consumption is directly related to the speed of the transition. That's a really good observation.

But what do you think is the more effective strategy — in terms of dollar/pleasure reward for effort/time invested — building speedhumps or learning to take advantage of the new?

One thing that has repeatedly strikes me about the honed crafts of writing and photography (and design) is how the benefits of open sharing and collaborative consumption are so perfectly suited to creative workers, but that those benefits are almost exactly proportional to how tightly those people clutch their works.

Dear Steve,

A fair question, but I'd be more concerned about "survivability" as a metric than "effectiveness."

Building speedbumps, which takes advantage of existing "infrastructure" is quick and cheap (and, even, potentially lucrative) and relatively secure. Developing or learning a model that takes advantage of the changes is much slower, often more expensive, and considerably more uncertain.

As the old saying goes (rewritten by me):

"Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day.

"Teach a man to fish and he'll starve to death long before he gets any good at it."

pax / Ctein

P.S. Interesting side note-- I got thinking about what would happen to *me* if I waved said evil magic wand. ('cause it's all about me, right?)

Only about 1/8th of my income comes from IP, and, on average, that work pays much less per hour of my time than the other 7/8ths. Since I turn away non-IP-connected work from lack of time, if the IP suddenly disappeared, I'd likely make a better living, not worse.

I guess I really don't have a horse in this race, economically.

But I like the old way better than the new, so I'll probably keep looking to make speedbumps.


As I asked elsewhere I ask here as well. The issue is not IP right infringements that are as cleatcut as Andy's. Andy overstepped the line (in a big way) and that's why he settled. The problem is that the terrain is getting murky. A dirty grey area created by case law (which is inevitible) and that is progressing and evolving as time goes by as you state. Now that is the heart of the problem. Things keep evolving unpredictable and it's all related to one thing, opinion. Your copyright can be my copywrong and vice versa. Clearcut cases as Andy's are straightforward but that's not the case with all copyright infringments. And then a innocent picture can cost you a great deal of money. Where for instance does being inspired by merge into plaguery? As the Elliot Erwitt against Ka case shows that was fought out in Germany or the Jeff Koons versus what's his name (can't seem to find it now, sorry) that was fought out in the US shows sometimes these lines are far from clear. And in these cases both the commercial photographer and the artist knew what they were doing. But what if you don't know you are infringing on someone's IP because you don't know a prior work existed or that you think is only an inspiration is considered a copyright infringement by others? What happens then? Intent to plaguerise or not, can that be proven, does it even matter? What would be the consequences? At this point the law is rather binary and that is what gets people exited. Can you plaguerise a little, a lot, to what gain and to what damage, with what intent and to who's credit. The outcome is simple enough, someone is sued, and then he or she can decided (or not) to defend him or herself. But is it that simple? Are you sure you don't run any risks you haven't thought of and some lawyer finds and exploits. Go to Flickr and search on El Capitan. Are all these photo's derived from one of Ansel Adams's shots? Or Thomas Struth's shot? So that is what people are worried about, not about IP rights since most people agree that IP is a property but on the misuse of IP laws that can stifle the progress of mankind and ruin the life of an unawear individual. Everyone knows that hitting someone over the head with a 2 x 4 can have consequences but most people are completely unaware that by posting a picture they love on their own website they are just as laiable to run into litigation. Even if it is their own picture and it inadvertidly resembles one taken by another photographer with (and I have to say this) deeper pockets and more power to sue. That is the consequence and that is ugly. Before Internet most pictures made by amateurs where under wraps but now they are out in the open in their casilions. And anyone can run into litigation. Since litigation can also be based on what is on the picture and then even the place from which you shoot a picture (as strange as it may seem) can be of importance at least if you want to publish that picture in Germany known for its liberal right of panorama but also known for it liberal use of privacy law as Google found out to its dismay. A picture of the Hundertwasser house in Vienna was shot from a balcony on the other side of the road. The owner of the balcony gave acces to the photographer so no trespassing took place. Now in Austria this was perfectly legal but in Germany using equipment (including telephotolenses and ladders) to overview private property is illegal (privacy law probably installed against papparazzi) but that law was used to ban publishing of a picture of the Hundertwasser house (because it's also a work of art i guess) in Germany. If the shot would have been made from the sidewalk things would have been okay. Now I did not know that and personally I guess the photographer in question did not know that too. And that is the problem the unprodictability and ambigiuity of it all.

Greetings, Ed

Dear Ed,

If I may go meta- on you for a moment…

Ed, meet paragraph breaks. Paragraph breaks, meet Ed. I hope you two will become bosom buddies in the future.

Returning to the program in progress…

I disagree with your starting premise that the terrain is getting murky. For the 30 years that I've been dealing with this, it has always been murky. Case law, in fact, has made it less murky.

Plagiarism has always been a murky area. There is no clear-cut and useful way to distinguish between artistic inspiration and theft in 25 words or less. There are two ways you can avoid the murkiness. One is to have extreme and draconian rules. Declare *ALL* IP fair game and allow everything derivative. Or declare all IP sacrosanct and allow nothing. Neither is going to be particularly satisfactory to the vast majority of people.

The second way is to have extremely complex and intricate rules that address almost every possible case situation. That's the route Hollywood went, where large amounts of fame, money, and reputation have ridden entirely on intellectual property, and where people have not been reluctant to take it to court… or to bloodshed. Consequently, they have developed an elaborate codification of exactly what kind of transactions may take place, who may transact, and what is being transacted under each circumstance. It works; given the large volume (both in data and dollars) of transactions that occur, there are remarkably few lawsuits that result.

Only one downside. You can't play. I can't play. You need to be an extremely knowledgeable professional to operate in that universe. That's why if you have an idea for a movie or even a full-blown screenplay, you hire yourself an attorney (in law or in fact) who is your authorized agent to deal with other authorized agents in the business. Because no one is going to trust you (or me) as a layperson to know how to correctly follow the code this has been created.

Those are the only ways you get clear-cut answers. If you don't like either of those, then you have to live with the murkiness. And the bigger the pool you want to play in, the murkier it gets.

You want to avoid some of the murkiness? Limit the scope of your activities. If you don't want to understand the differences in international law and custom between nations and cultures, then don't do business internationally. If you want to avoid the murkiness created by intangible IP that is utterly fungible data, do not engage in an online business that involves substantial intangible IP assets. If you want to avoid the murkiness created by “what does fair use” mean, just don't go there. Create your own work, from your own mind. Plagiarism, like murder, requires motives, means, and opportunity. You are not guilty of plagiarism if you have no awareness of a preceding similar work. (That is primarily how Hollywood studios protect themselves: if they have never even seen your amateur script, there is no possible way they can have plagiarized it.)

If you are terrified of the highly improbable case of someone searching you out and trying to extort IP ransom from you in a situation where you are totally blameless and uninvolved… Well, then, go hide in your house all day and don't talk to anybody.

If this all seems cold and hard hearted, well, it's not. It is simply what it is. If you are so hugely risk-averse that you spend much time worrying about this, either you are behaving very unrealistically, or you are engaging in risky activities you should not be engaging in.

The fact is that every bit of case law that comes along makes the situation less murky. Every time a controversial case goes to trial and we get a precedent-setting ruling, we have resolved one more murky question. It does not make the totality of the rules simpler, but it does make them clearer. I am still greatly disappointed that Hope/Farey did not go to trial; it was an extremely ambiguous situation, the worst I have ever seen. I would have loved to have a ruling one way or the other.

You can choose to learn those case rules, as Terry describes in his column, or you can choose not to play. You can also choose to wish that the world was magically a simpler place, but that is in no way a reality-based wish.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 


That is a lot of truth.....I must admit. And indeed the complications are manyfold and yes our world is getting to complicated for my liking. I create my own work. As you can easily see on my website. But that does not stop me completely from worrying, that is the nature of the beast in my case.

Greetings, Ed.

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